Dissertations, Theses and Capstone Projects

Date of Award

Summer 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration (MPA)


Political Science


This research project investigated the federal GEAR UP grant program, designed to improve the college preparedness and college success rate of low-income/minority students, as implemented in the Marietta City School District. The demographics of the district are 65 percent economically disadvantaged and 80 percent racial minority. The grant, which provides funding for a six-year period, was awarded in 2005 to serve a specific cohort of students—the Marietta High School (MHS) graduating class of 2011— beginning when they were in 7th grade at Marietta Middle School. The students in the cohort are currently transitioning into 11th grade at MHS. Following is an overview of the major challenges, main hypothesis, key outcomes, and recommendations.

Opportunities for serving all of the students in the GEAR UP cohort have been restricted because chief school personnel have not permitted GEAR UP-sponsored activities to be conducted during class time, as they are in most other such programs. This has largely prevented the grant’s scope and capacity from maximizing both outreach and impact. As a result, only 10 percent of students in the cohort actually participate in GEAR UP-sponsored activities, which occur in a weekly after-school program.

The purpose of this research was to examine if GEAR UP participation had a significant effect on whether students in the cohort plan to pursue post-secondary education. It was my hypothesis that students in the cohort who participate are significantly more likely to report that they plan to pursue post-secondary education than students who do not participate. The findings (generated using ANOVA) suggest that this is the case. The mean response of 4.72 (an interval, 5-point Likert scale measurement) for participating students’ plans to pursue post-secondary education was significantly higher than the mean response of 4.42 for non-participating students’ plans, 4 as p = 0.032 < alpha = 0.05. However, a staggeringly high 93.4 percent of the entire cohort, whether participating students or not, reported plans for higher education after high school. This raised the question: If the grant is not having a significant impact in terms of the number of students it is influencing, what other forces are operating to produce this staggeringly high result across the whole cohort? Moreover, why are the results not reflecting the likely reality that a mere 40 percent will pursue education beyond high school?

Despite more than half a century of federal attempts to assist the economically disadvantaged, the United States appears insufficiently better off regarding lowincome/ minority education. This study’s measured differences in cumulative GPA by ethnicity (determined using Tukey’s test) provide evidence of this: Caucasian students’ average cumulative GPA of 3.104 is statistically significantly higher than African- American students’ average cumulative GPA of 2.389. The United States is far from where it should be had it pursued the implementation of federal efforts as seriously and intensely as they require.

Increasing the effectiveness of educational opportunity grants for low-income /minority students requires a serious commitment from the schools in which these grants operate (as evidenced by St. Olaf GEAR UP successes). It may also require more drastic efforts that include a focus on cultural transformation. If it is true that, using a common phrase with a twist, “one can take the student out of the ‘ghetto,’ but cannot take the ‘ghetto’ out of the student,” then perhaps the focus needs to be shifted to changing the “ghetto” culture. Federal programs like GEAR UP might consider redirecting their efforts as results from this study suggest that the factors putting so many at risk for academic failure may actually be beyond the school system and embedded in the culture.